Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

May 6, 2014

BOE to revisit textbook vote

CROSSVILLE — The Cumberland County Board of Education will meet in a special-called meeting Wednesday at 4:30 to again discuss adoption of textbooks for social studies after a motion to approve the adoption of textbooks failed in the April 24 meeting of the board.

"We do have to adopt something," said Rebecca Wood, assistant director of curriculum, instruction and accountability. "We can pick another book or we can continue with what we have."

Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, added, "While Tennessee Code Annotated does say that we are required to adopt, it does not say we are required to purchase. The second thing to be considered is that social studies will not be a tested subject this next year. But the most important thing is that we do need to get resources for our teachers. We have to do something to help them."

The board voted 2 to 7 against adoption of the recommended textbooks, with discussion pointing to several objections, such as the cost of purchasing the books for each student versus offering classroom sets of books; the possibility of changing standards being approved by the state; and citizen opposition to the selected books.

Administrative staff evaluated the cost of purchasing classroom sets for grades four through high school, with a total cost estimate of $218,520. The cost of purchasing textbooks for all grades and on a per student basis is $433,000.

New standards for social studies will begin next year, though the state will delay testing of those standards one year. The grade level with a critical need for new resources is seventh grade, which has had significant changes to the standards, explained Wood.

"We had a lot of discussion on what we would do if we had to cut our request," Wood said. "K through third grade teachers already include a lot of social studies with their reading, so we thought that might be a doable option."

Vivian Hutson, 6th District representative, asked what the teacher response was to only having classroom sets instead of a book for each student.

"I have had some verbal concerns made about that's going to take some additional juggling," Wood said. Teachers with multiple classes would have to juggle reading or other assignments among the classes so that students could take the book home and return it the next day for the other classes.

Janet Graham, interim supervisor of K-12 curriculum, said there are some classes already using classroom sets in other subjects because the books are no longer easily available and older.

"We do get complaints," Graham said. "When there is a test and the student does not do well, the parent says it isn't fair or right that their child didn't have a book to study."

Charles Tollett, 1st District representative, said, "Our teachers will make it work, but it is the board's responsibility to make decisions not on the least we can get by with, but what would be a condition for maximum learning."

Jim Blalock, 8th District representative, asked about additional changes to state standards.

"Will they change the standards again? If they do, how big will the changes be? Are we just shooting in the dark here?" he asked. "I have no problem with the price. My concern is why spend the money and then they decide to have new standards."

Graham said it was a long process to change standards, and new social studies had been delayed with the rollout of Common Core State Standards in math and reading/langauge arts.

"It's a multi-year process to change standards," Graham said. "It's not something that is going to change tomorrow."

The state offers waivers to allow textbooks programs that are not on a contract with the state to ensure continued availability, replacement policy and quality of binding. The first process is that no books are listed on the official textbook list for the course, which is not applicable.

The second process asks for special permission to adopt a textbook or series not included on the official list of textbooks. This requires an explanation of the special circumstances that exist, mapping the textbook to state standards and to establish contractual safeguards for availability and replacement. This request must be approved by the state department of education.

School systems can use previously adopted books that are no longer on contract with the state. This can present problems for school systems, with the state cautioning school systems publishers are not required to stock or print additional copies of the textbooks or supply free materials. Textbooks are also subject to annual price increases. They may also not be aligned to current standards and contain obsolete information that may not meet testing requirements.

"We have some books that were published in 1995, so we may have trouble finding replacements as we need to replenish our supply," Wood said.

Across the state and country, textbook adoption has faced increased public scrutiny, with objections being raised against different textbooks for a variety of reasons. At the April 24 meeting, one local resident objected to "teaching of socialism" and a disparity in the way Islam and Christianity were presented in books, among other objections.

Books being evaluated by the school system were open to public inspection and comments. There were no comments for any books in grades kindergarten through seventh grade, high school economics and high school psychology. One response each was received for eighth-grade and for high school sociology, but those comments were related to books that were not selected.

Advanced placement psychology had one response to the selected book. There was one response packet of prepared comments entered for the selected books in high school world history, high school U.S. history, high school world geography and high school government.

Director of Schools Donald Andrews said, "I can tell you, our teachers, when they go in there, they're teaching a course of study. They're going to do it in such a way as, 'This is information. I'm not saying I believe this.' It's about teaching."

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